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Best Ice Fishing Reels

Years ago, ice-fishing reels weren’t considered a key piece of equipment. Hardcore winter anglers relied on simple rods with plastic spools screwed to the handle to store line. Believe it or not, we caught a lot of nice fish with these “sticks,” and without the benefit of sonar. Even today, far more attention goes into ice rods. Although that’s understandable to an extent, there’s a lot of key factors in picking the best ice fishing reel for your fishing situation.


See more about our picks and other reel suggestions below.

ice fishing spinning reels


I estimate that spinning reels represent at least 90 percent of reels used these days. For one thing, they excel at handling light line, which is the predominant choice of ice anglers, even those pursuing larger predators. That’s because water is typically clearer under the ice and presentations involve hanging a lure straight down where fish get a chance to examine it before striking, as opposed to casting or trolling approaches in open water. Moreover, most species have a lower metabolism in cold water, so their fighting is less powerful in winter.

Today, we have an outstanding array of ice fishing reels that weigh under 6 ounces–generally in the 1000 or even 500 sizes (some companies use the 100 and 50 scale instead)–intended to match light panfish rods. Some are manufactured by major reel companies that produce models of all sizes, while others are from companies that specialize in ice fishing, such as Clam and HT Enterprises.


Clam offers the Katana series of 6-ball bearing models for approximately $49.

ht evolution extreme ice reel


HT’s Revolution Extreme combos have a choice of 3- or 6-bearing reels, for between $26.99 to $59.99.


Reel giant Shimano offers the Sedona FJ, with that popular model for $79. The 500-size weighs only 4.9 ounces while the 1000 scales at 5.3 ounces. Shimano is the staple of quality when it comes to spinning reels and the redesigned Shimano Sedona FJ Spinning Reel incorporates the power and smoothness of HAGANE design, to give you a solid reel. By Incorporating Shimano’s cold-forged gear technology, this reel is a step ahead of other reels in its class. Add to that the SilentDrive technology to quell unnecessary noise and vibration, you’ll experience an extremely smooth, quiet retrieve, even under load.

seviin gs series


Newcomer Seviin Reels, owned by St. Croix Rods, offers 750- and 1000-sized reels, as well as standard 2000 and 2500. Three series range from $140 to $190. The GS Series are nice reels at $140 and offer lightweight carbon fiber / polymer body, side cover, and rotor, 6 + 1 stainless steel bearing system, a forged and anodized aluminum spool with braid band and a multi-stack carbon fiber / stainless steel drag system. The precision hobbed hard brass pinion and die-cast helical drive gear and geared slow S-Curve oscillation system with internal support guide offers super smooth performance on open water and on the ice.

Across much of the Upper Midwest, walleyes are a key target for ice anglers, due to their willingness to bite in winter, size, and their esteemed culinary value. I’m a fan of using a reel with as large a spool as you can get away with, considering its weight and bulk, which are important when matching very short rods. The larger the spool, the fewer problems you encounter from excess loops of line spilling off the spool which often requires scissors to fix.

Also, larger spools contain larger drag washers, making them smoother and more powerful; a key concern when dealing with lakers, catfish, big trout, pike, burbot, and of course sturgeon, the king of the ice brigade.

The most popular size for walleyes and mid-size predators is 2000; 2500 for extra power and line capacity, as they hold plenty of 6- to 10-pound test lines. For fish that may exceed 20 pounds, go with 3000 reels, matching 15- to 30-pound lines.

One category of spinning reels is built for dead-sticking, a deadly technique that’s overlooked by many anglers. Placing the rod in a holder or on a bucket, drop a live below, so it acts natural and patiently lures in predators. Bait-feeder reels originated in the saltwater market for free-lining live baits for fish as big as tarpon. These specialized reels allow line to be pulled from the spool smoothly, as a light-tension clicker controls the line until you flip a switch to engage the spool and set the hook.

ice fishing inline reels


One of the challenges of ice fishing is managing line twist. In super cold conditions, mono and fluorocarbon stiffen up, increasing their spool memory. To compound the problem, most spinning reels for panfishing are very small, often size 1000 or smaller.
The presentation involves vertically dropping a tiny lure, sometimes tipped with a live bait, creating an off-center object. As a result, they can spin like a helicopter rotor as you retrieve them. And when a fish pulls drag, the rotor adds more twist. Worse yet, lures spin when dropped in front of a finicky bluegill or crappie, an action that’s not the least bit natural. At times you see fish back away or swim off-screen in response.

About 10 years ago, a few inventive ice anglers began experimenting with fly reels hung below spinning blanks. These larger spools release the line straight down instead of spilling it off a horizontally mounted spool to the rod guides. They found that line-twist decreased dramatically, which saved time and increased their catch.

Ice-Fishing companies including Clam Outdoors and HT Enterprises noted this trend and began building straight-line reels to match their rods.


HT’s Polar Fire Deluxe Tightline Reel has 4 bearings with a positive drag system, oversized handle and extended reel stalk and comes with a 2 to 1 ratio. It’s one of the sharper looking and smooth operating inline ice reels.


Eagle Claw added the In-Line Ice Reel and downsized Micro In-Line models to their large selection ($19-$35.99). Offering simplicity, power, value and reduced line twist, the Eagle Claw Inline Ice Reel boasts a tough nylon spool and body with an aluminum handle. The smooth drag system adjusts easily, and there’s a free-spool release button for your convenience.


As a major player in the ice-fishing market, 13 Fishing offers several high-end models in the 13 Fishing FreeFall series like the FreeFall Ghost and the Black Betty FreeFall, ranging in cost from $60 to $128.00. Their FreeFall Trigger allows one-handed operation and this feature halts the drop at a particular depth when you spot fish on sonar.

You can control drop speed with a high-tech Magnetic Drop Speed System, a major development from simple designs based on fly reels. Many of these options are built with extra-long reel stalks that make them easier to use while wearing gloves.


With their moving pawl and line-guide, level-wind reels can tend to freeze up in super cold conditions. But when fishing from a portable shack, rental house, or wheelhouse, they make sense for fish bigger than walleyes. With a heavier spoon or jigging bait, they drop straight and don’t create as much line-twist as spinning reels due to the way line is retrieved onto the spool. Of course, some lures spin on the fall due to their shape, so the best solution is a tiny barrel swivel tied 8 to 10 inches above the lure, which removes most of the twist as it’s retrieved so that it hangs straight.

Your favorite baitcaster reels in the smaller 150 or 200 size work fine, and they can easily handle thicker line. You can even step up to a big reel that will hold big line like the old HT 5500 or Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 when you are using your heavy ice baitcaster rods like the Clam Jason Mitchell Mack Baitcaster Rod. More affordable models generally have smooth enough drags, which is important, as cold weather seems to make lines stiffer and more brittle. But when chase really large predators, big line and heavy rods can help you land the fish.

Consider Bags or Cases for Ice Rods and Reels

Frozen lakes are a challenging environment for anglers and their gear, with snow drifts and bumps that can send your stuff flying, whether you’re riding a snowmobile, 4-wheel, or in your truck. Gear carrying bags, such as the 2B Rod and Gear Bag are well padded to withstand impact. The regular size holds reels, lure boxes, and rods up to 36 inches, while the XL models handle 45-inches.